NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) – Three families of Syrian refugees have arrived in New York City on their way to Texas, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced Friday.
Texas had sued the federal government to prevent Syrian refugees from staying there following the terrorist attacks in Paris.
“Though we anticipate New York City will only be a temporary home for these families while the state of Texas pursues a baseless attempt to resist their resettlement in the state, we welcome them with open arms to the city of immigrants,” de Blasio said.
New Jersey Governor and Republican presidential candidate Chris Christie made headlines when he said his state would not welcome Syrian refugees, including children under 5. That set off a war of words between Christie and de Blasio.
“The United States has a long-standing tradition of welcoming refugees, and this Administration is committed to preserving that tradition, consistent with the values that have endured through generations,” de Blasio said. “Like the President, our first priority is always the safety of the American people. All refugees, including those fleeing Syria today, undergo the most rigorous screening and security vetting processes. Our nation can welcome refugees desperately seeking safety and ensure our national security. We can and must do both.”
Texas, meanwhile, backed down Friday from efforts to block six Syrian refugees from resettling in Dallas after the Obama administration reiterated in federal court that the state had no authority to do so.
The swift reversal diffused a standoff Texas started after becoming the first state to sue the U.S. government in efforts to turn away Syrians. The path is now cleared for the Syrian family, which includes two young children and their grandparents, to arrive as planned Monday without interference from state Republican leaders, who questioned whether the refugees posed a threat to public safety.
Another Syrian family of six, four of whom are 13 years old or younger, is also scheduled to resettle in Houston on Monday.
Republican Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton earlier this week sued the U.S. government and the nonprofit International Rescue Committee in a last-ditch attempt to stop new Syrian refugees from being resettled. More than two dozen states have vowed to block Syrian refugees following the November terrorist attacks in Paris, but Texas was the first to take the federal government to court.
“I think that it’s the first sign that Texas is beginning to see the light,” said Cecillia Wang of the ACLU, which is defending the resettlement group in the lawsuit that was filed in Dallas federal court.
Paxton, however, said he is not entirely dropping the lawsuit. He still wants a hearing next week that would give Texas assurances that the Obama administration will work with the state on refugee resettlement.
“Our state will continue legal proceedings to ensure we get the information necessary to adequately protect the safety of Texas residents,” Paxton said.
Court documents show that, in all, 21 Syrian refugees are scheduled to be resettled in Dallas and Houston by Thursday. They include a single woman hoping to reunite with her mother, who is already in Texas.
Federal officials called Texas’ fears over security unfounded and argued that its stance would harm national interests that are determined by President Barack Obama.
Texas “has made no showing that these refugees pose any threat, much less an imminent one, to the safety or security of Texas residents or any other Americans,” the Obama administration told the court. The federal government insists refugee vetting is thorough and can take up to two years.
The Texas lawsuit came two weeks after Gov. Greg Abbott ordered resettlement organizations in Texas to stop accepting Syrian refugees due to security concerns.
The White House has said states do not have the legal authority to block refugee placement. The federal government argued in court paper that Texas was seeking “an unwarranted veto power over individual federal refugee resettlement decisions. And it would do so in order to prevent refugee families with small children from entering the state.”
The refugees coming to Dallas include two children ages 3 and 6; their parents and grandparents. A second family scheduled to arrive in Houston, also on Monday, include four children aged 2 to 13 and their parents, according to court filings.
On Dec. 10, a Syrian family of eight, including six children, is scheduled to be resettled in Houston, in addition to a 26-year-old woman whose mother already resides in the area.
The International Rescue Committee is not supervising all the refugee placements, but it was not immediately clear what other aid groups were involved.
(TM and © Copyright 2015 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2015 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)